Category: General

MacHack VI: Computer chess and the roots of AI

On January 21, 1967, a mild winter Saturday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a couple of computer researchers from the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) flagged down a taxi near Tech Square. Loading a bulky, 60-pound teletype called a 35 KSR (“Keyboard Send/Receive”) into the trunk, they set off for downtown Boston, across the river. A short while later, the cab pulled up at the Young Men’s Christian Union (YMCU), and the researchers wrestled the machine up the stairs to the second floor, where the Boylston Chess Club was setting up for a weekend tournament. (read more...)

On the social nature of toilet paper

You would be forgiven for thinking that the first thing bought in a global crisis would be tinned, dried, and frozen foods; clean water; and medicines—things that enable the survival of you and your kin. Yet, when the number of COVID-19 cases in Australia hit 100 on March 10, 2020, it was the toilet paper aisles of supermarkets that were empty. Through what became the subject of memes depicting Australians sheltering from the ensuing pandemic wrapped only in toilet paper, and of men wearing lavish adornments of toilet paper rolls, daily bodily habits had hit center stage. (read more...)

A coincidence is a strange type of fact

At the top of Václavksé náměstí, the central artery of Prague, in a solemnly gray but geometrically dynamic Socialist Realist hotel that today is jammed between currency exchange windows and fast-food restaurants, up one floor from the busy street and the purple velvet lobby, a young laborer is trying to make a fidget spinner move with just his mind. He looks at it intensely, with sadness and urgency in his face. He looks at it like this for about thirty seconds, then releases his gaze, relaxes, blinks purposefully, restoring his energy, and resumes his effort. Sometimes he twitches but the fidget spinner never spins. And sometimes during his breaks he apologizes to his audience – me and, also, the coordinators of Paranormální výzva, a collective of Czechs who are testing claims of paranormal ability. (read more...)

The Paradox of Autonomy and Care for Mothers of Adults with Disabilities in Brazil

Since the early 2000s, Brazil has experienced a significant change concerning the rights of people with disabilities in the country. Based on the struggles of the Brazilian Disability Rights Movements, in 2009 the country promulgated the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) and in 2015 enacted the Brazilian Inclusion Law, also known as the Statute of People with Disabilities. The promotion of autonomy and the social participation of people with disabilities is at the core of these legislations. While these measures are not always accompanied by policies that can actually guarantee their implementation, they still impact people with disabilities in the way they foster such discourses around autonomy and independence. (read more...)

A schizophrenic streak

In discussions on COVID-19, it has become a common trope that disciplines like anthropology are particularly relevant and fitting for writing about the pandemic. Indeed, the pandemic unearths many dormant questions about inequalities in public health care systems, uneven food distribution, anthropogenic effects on the environment, and more. Just as the virus spreads globally, so does it bring to the surface injustices across the globe: in the slums of Mumbai, in Northern Italian hospitals, in your own four walls. (read more...)

Platypus Celebrates AAPI Heritage Month

In celebration and recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, take a look back at some of our favorite past posts from and about the region. (read more...)

Black Geographies: New Maroon Studies and the Politics of Place

Jamaican Maroons are the descendants of Africans who escaped enslavement on plantations in the early colonial period. Mentions of the Maroons in the colonial record begin around 1655, when the British, having routed the Spanish from Jamaica, started facing fierce guerrilla resistance from groups of Africans who had established free communities in the hills. The Maroon population grew as frequent revolts on the plantations facilitated the flight to freedom in the hills. The British unsuccessfully tried to subdue the Maroons by force of arms. Ultimately, they signed peace treaties with the leaders of the two main Maroon groups in 1739. The treaties included land grants and recognition of Maroon autonomy, but also included stipulations that the Maroons help capture runaways and subdue revolts in the future. (read more...)

Getting Online / Becoming Misaligned in the American Midwest

“Data Threshers” is a simulation portrait that experiments with the representation of metabolic conflicts in multiple scales of time, space, and perspective. Formally, the video takes its cue from Grant Wood’s 1934 painting Dinner for Threshers. The piece seeks to stage an encounter for the viewer with the strange new rhythms of data mining, logging, and farming that are emerging along historical patterns of development in America’s heartland. (read more...)